Winemaker Charles Smith moves to Seattle and into midcentury marvel


What a long, strange trip it’s been, from living in his car in the 1980s to padding around barefoot in one of architect Paul Hayden Kirk’s finest homes, a real celebration of midcentury design. It’s a fine blend of Northwest and Japanese residential architecture in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood.

“It didn’t matter to me who built it,” says Charles Smith, winemaker and owner of Charles Smith Wines, who has recently made a big move (new house, new winery) from Walla Walla, Wash., to Seattle.

What do you need to know about Charles Smith, winemaker? He’s the guy — big hair, bigger personality — who put a bomb on one of his wine labels, Boom Boom! syrah. (Not a scary bomb, the kind of bomb Boris and Natasha were always trying to use on “Rocky & Bullwinkle.”) He’s the guy who says cheap (OK, “affordable”) wine should also be good wine. And he’s the guy who, on his company’s website, goes by the title el presidente. (Where you can also read all about his rock ‘n’ roll past and find out why he really took off for Denmark in the 1990s.) Oh, and he was Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 2014 Winemaker of the Year.

Sitting outside on the terrace on a sparkling jewel of a day and lifting a glass of 2014 Charles & Charles riesling ($15.99) he says, “I feel like I’m in James Bond’s house or one of the evil guys.’”

Just 2.7 miles away in Georgetown is Smith’s new winery and tasting room, 32,000 square feet, designed by architect Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig. The architect also designed Smith’s Walla Walla winery, a 2013 American Institute of Architects Honor Award winner. Kundig was called upon again to refresh this home, along with interior designer Debbie Kennedy, also of Olson Kundig. The outdoors got the treatment from Greenbank.

“We hit the refresh button on the whole house. If Kirk walked in knowing what we know now, what would he do?” is how Smith puts it.

Smith found the 4,400-square-foot home, known as the Dowell Residence, on Zillow ($1.47 million). Its grounds are impressive, a country club of comfort in gardens, water features and places to gather, designed by landscape architect William Teufel, renowned for his golf-course design and the 1962 World’s Fair grounds (Seattle Center). On the main floor and lower, new and large Fleetwood sliding-glass doors frame and welcome in this integral landscape.

The entry features a two-story basalt wall and black slate floor. There’s a skybridge across the interior courtyard, burbling pond below, large clerestories up top. There are three fireplaces, basalt and wood-burning; mature Japanese maples; horsehair-papered shojis that reshape spaces, hide storage; and lanternlike original light fixtures.

Furnishings are vintage, wherever possible. The dining table and chairs, though new, are from George Nakashima Woodworker. A large Guy Anderson painting in the entry, Richard Gilkey in the dining room and Alden Mason downstairs speak to place and period.

Smith loves to cook, and so there are new walnut cabinets, a honed black-granite kitchen counter, Wolf six-burner range and a new dining-room pass-through. “The kitchen isn’t for somebody else, it’s for me,” Smith says, pulling out a gewurztraminer.

“This house is all about harmony,” Smith says of the Paul Hayden Kirk Midcentury Modern he recently restored in the Seward Park neighborhood.

Baby-pink bathroom tiles were retained and repaired. Smith insisted that a bamboo closet screen be restitched instead of replaced.

And the wine cellar? A spot at the back of the basement. “It’s just underground. It’s not a wine cellar aaahhhhhhhh.”

Smith heads upstairs, bare feet on black slate at the front door.

“Emotionally it had to be this way,” he says. “Because I couldn’t be in a fake, f%^&*$ percent@ house.”


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